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Hiding Food For Picky Eaters – should you?

Hiding food for fussy eaters

To hide or not to hide – the million dollar question for many parents.  Today I share why you might consider ‘hiding’ foods, but how to avoid having to do it forever.  There are (short term) advantages and (long term) disadvantages to ‘hiding’ food – here are my thoughts on the great debate.

Hiding to correct nutritional deficiency
Nutritional deficiency affects a child’s desire and palate for food, this I know.  So when a child is fussy because they have developed a nutritional deficiency (because they eat poor quality or a poor variety of foods), hiding as much nourishment as possible can go a long way to correcting the deficiency and reinstating a desire to eat whole foods.  Many adults recognise that the better they eat, the more they want to eat better. The same goes for children.  So this is the overwhelming advantage of hiding foods, but it is NOT a long term solution.

Not a total solution
‘Hiding’ food is all well and good when they are little, however, you won’t be hiding avocado in their smoothie or zucchini in their pasta sauce when they are 20!  Whilst ‘hiding’ food can promote better nutrition and, therefore, more desire for healthier foods, you are teaching your kids nothing about the importance of eating ‘whole’ real foods.

I tend to look at including (for example) grated or pureed vegetables in a meal as ‘boosting’ the nutritional potential, flavour and texture of a meal rather than ‘hiding’ it.  But for arguments sake in this post, we’ll call it ‘hiding.’

How to hide and at the same time, develop a love of whole foods
So as well as ‘hiding’ food, there are a few important things I’d strongly encourage you to consider:

  • Firstly, you might have a number of vegetables ‘hidden’ in that casserole or Bolognese, but I’d strongly encourage you to also present them (or other veggies) on the same plate in their ‘whole’ or a recognisable form.  The purpose of this is if you don’t serve ‘obvious’ veggies, you are ultimately saying that it’s okay to eat a meal without vegetables and this definitely doesn’t serve them well in creating healthy eating habits for the future.
  • Hiding food is good for establishing peace of mind that they are deriving more goodness than they realise from say, a casserole.  So that even if they don’t touch the whole forms, you can let it go without stress or fuss or feeling like you need to offer them something else to eat.  Replacing a refused meal, or part thereof is a big no-no in my book.  Rather than getting upset or angry if they reject the obvious veggies, why not put them on your own plate and pass a positive comment like “yum, I’m having these if you won’t eat them, I want to make sure I’m really strong.”
  • So always hedge your bets if dealing with a fussy kid by hiding and serving veggies on the first plate you serve.  If they do eat some or all of the whole form you can congratulate them, reward them if you like and feel satisfied that they have had a really great meal and you are building a fantastic food appreciation and healthy future.
  • Depending upon your child and their personality, at some stage, you should consider sharing what they are actually eating.  If you choose to reveal the hidden ingredients, you do so to demonstrate that the vegetables can taste great in this form, not to prove you have the one-up on them.  You don’t want to create any mistrust with food, so choose how you do this wisely.  It needs to be presented in a really positive way.  I always confirm that my kids really enjoyed their dinner before I share hidden ingredients.  Once they say how good it is I might say something like ‘do you know you had three extra serves of vegetables in your dinner tonight – imagine how much stronger/ faster/ smarter (whatever will appeal) that will make you’?  Even though you might be feeling very smug – sharing your ‘nutritional’ win in a ‘ha ha I tricked you’ way, will only build resentment and work against you in the long run.

So that’s it on hiding it.  Do so to ‘boost’ the nutritional value of the meal but present ‘obvious’ food also and keep chipping away with all of the other tips I’ve shared for fixing food fussiness (you can catch up on some of my past ideas here).

What’s your take on hiding healthy foods in kids meals?   You can have your say by posting a comment below.


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Hiding food for fussy eaters

  • anon

    I have a fussy eater (2 1/2) so I do hide veggies where I can. At lunch and dinner I always put them on his plate however I do not force as it as much as a control issue with him. Not much success yet but ill keep at it. Even him touching it is a start. Cauliflower is one of my favourite hidden veggies as it also mushes really well so he eats quite a bit.

    • Yes, control is often the issue with food fussiness and your approach of presenting them, but not forcing is the best solution. I do find that getting kids who like a little control involved is a positive way to get them to come around. Either giving them a choice of what veggies you’ll buy, bagging produce at the market or supermarket (e.g.; picking out the best looking carrots), spinning the salad spinner, anything at all. Just don’t give-up! All the best G x

  • Amy

    I too think that honesty is a good policy, but sometimes just adding/hiding an ingredient that may be rejected isn’t a bad option to begin with (even for fussy husbands).
    One great strategy I’ve found is to cook with kids. My son loves lasagna but wasn’t happy with onion. One day I asked him if he’d like to help make the bolognaise. When it came time to add the onion he said “we don’t have onion” and I calmly stated that there has always been onion in his lasagna, but the cooking process makes the flavour mild. He was happy with the explanation and proudly told his Dad that the lasagna was “the best ever” because he had made the sauce.
    The next night I served up sausage casserole with large strips of visible onion. I was mentally prepared for a refusal and when he said “Mum – this looks…” I assumed the worst. However he quickly added AMAZING!!! and devoured everything on his plate.

    • Yes Amy, always working with your kids and getting them involved is the way forward. Lovely story, G x

  • Natural Convenience

    Thanks for the tips. I love the notion of not hiding the side of veggies which are also in the meal. I am going to do this tonight. My 5 yr old will only eat raw veggies if she does eat any. Thanks again.

    • Raw or cooked, either form is okay as long as they are eating them. Good luck, G x

  • I do exactly what you said – I ‘hide’ veggies but always give ‘real’ ones on the plate as well and expect some to be at least tasted. I also tell the kids exactly what I have hidden in the cakes/brownies/ice cream/bolognaise etc once they like it. They now expect me to have put a secret ingredient in everything! All 3 of my kids will now eat all of the veggies on their plate or at the very least have a taste of something new.

    I also found that cutting down on sweetness (we don’t use any refined sugar) has helped with getting the veggies eaten.

    • Fabulous Monique. Yes cutting back on sugar is important in so many ways. I love how your kids now expect something hidden. Mine are similar – nothing surprises them. The first time my daughter had a regular ice chocolate at a birthday party she commented how different it was from ‘the one mum makes me’. I told the mum when I picked her up – that’s because the ones I make are made with rice malt syrup, raw cacao and half and avocado! Ha ha , G x

  • Espy

    What do you think about mixing foods for infants? I know of a 12 month old who ate only yogurt, rice cereal, and custard. His speech pathologist recommended mixing new foods into these three accepted foods in vary small, but increasing amounts. By the time he was 16 months, he was eating a variety of smooth home-made purees and some finger foods. But, I’ve heard that this approach is wrong, because it can damage trust and does not address the original problem of accepting new foods. What do you think?

  • Yes I agree Espy with mixing new foods into the accepted foods – it will help to address nutritional deficiencies and improve their palate for the new foods. BUT I’d also be offering the foods in their recognisable form every day too so they come to recognise and accept them (you can’t hide them forever). There are many other strategies that I would employ like eating as a family (so the baby eats what you are), getting them involved in choosing and preparing food (I’ve covered a lot of this in her posts). G x

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